“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”William Shakespeare
It is political party conference time in the UK. A time when politicians speak to the party faithful, and they generally applaud. It’s a time when some politicians try to broach difficult subjects and float big ideas. Last week it was the Liberal Democrats, this week the Conservatives and next the Labour Party.
All the parties have a view on education. It is after all one of the “easier” political footballs to kick – it is something that everyone has a view on as it is something that everyone has had an experience of (good or bad). Politicians being politicians, they aren’t interested in announcing small initiatives, they prefer an eye-catching headline grabber, and that is understandable. This week the Prime Minister has announced that he’d like to reform the exam system, so a greater number of subjects are studied for a longer period. He’d like academic and vocational qualifications to be bundled together, and he’s even borrowed a name for it describing it as a baccalaureate. In making this announcement he wrong-footed a few media pundits and has raised as many questions as he has answered. This, if it even happens, will be (I think) my third session of major reform. Four if you count my own school days where we were moving from O Level and CSE to GCSE. If I were one of Rishi’s policy wonks I think I’d have tried to steer him away from the qualifications side of the debate and asked for a greater focus on what happens to our younger learners. I’d be asking questions outside of the old skills versus knowledge debate and I’d be looking to develop not only academic prowess, but wider personal development. I’d be wanting a system of education that puts character excellence at the heart of all it seeks to do. Such a system would begin to address the mental health crisis our young people face, it would encourage an understanding of community, it would encourage kindness and would also be academically rigorous. Employer demands for effective team workers, problem solvers, creative thinkers and compelling public communicators would also be met. What’s not to like?
All national systems of education have their flaws. There is no one size fits all approach to the education of billions of children. Systems are useful but there must always be flexibility and more to it than simply the grades produced in the exam room. There is so much more to education than that. At a time when the majority of 16-25 year olds feel fearful about their future every day we need to be talking about more than simply the organisation of tests.
At present our tutors are preparing references for our Year 13 university applicants. It is somewhat humbling to read of how accomplished our Year 13s are. Having taken advantage of the opportunities offered they are well rounded, academically able, intellectually curious and prepared for leadership of self and others. Worth remembering that they have another six months to mature and to learn and to develop before they go out on that next great step after which their character will become their qualification.